growing native

Since I’m done with my teaching, I’ve had some time to help the environmental group where I interned in the summer of 2008. EarthShare of Missouri is an organization that helps collect funds for what is now roughly 77 environmental nonprofits operating across the state of Missouri.

Looking back at the member organizations & pictures from all of their events or nature preserves, I got really excited about our return to the States. During my time with EarthShare, I learned about the importance of native species. Organizations, like the Heartland All Species Project and the Missouri Prairie foundation for example, are helping community members see the impact of invasive species, exotic landscaping & the chemicals often required to sustain them–chemicals designed to kill more native species seen as “weeds”. (Okay, so the chemical bit was more me than the organizations, but you get the idea.)

So, what is an invasive species?
Good question. There are several you could think of now: that monster fish attacking the Great Lakes; a bug killing billions of trees each year that causes the “don’t move this wood” signs. Or how about your lawn? (I’ll save that for another post.) How about the foreign plants (or most decorative plants) you’ve got around your house & garden?

As the Stewardship Garden explains,

Many commonly sold plants are not only non-native, but they’re invasive and outcompete our native plants. They may be beautiful and may even do well in your own yard (which is why they’re commonly sold.) In fact, they may even provide food for wildlife in your yard. The problem is that they may spread to our woodlands and meadows or other natural areas. One way this can happen is through bird droppings. I don’t want to sacrifice the larger ecosystem to beauty or convenience in my own yard.

With our return to the States, I wanted to return to this topic; it’s one that has become incredibly important to me. I’ve been gradually researching what plants we could grow in pots, what vegetables could get a start even with a late August planting, what could survive the Indiana winter. So today, I spent the early morning researching what we had to work with in Indiana.

Luckily, there is a great agricultural focus at Purdue University. They have loads of downloadable documents, calendars, seed suggestions & resources. I think this list of vegetables & region suggestions will be a life garden saver–added bonus, they have an online list of good starters & things to avoid. I then found a list of native Indiana fruit trees (Persimmon? Cherry? Yes, please! Pawpaw? Who knew?!),

By now, you’re reading this thinking, “But I’m not from Indiana!” If you’re starting gardening, you could look to the Sierra club’s list of five crops that are easy(-ish) to grow & can support multiple climates. I did some digging (admittedly not scientific or extensive), & didn’t see these guys on any invasive species lists.

If the Indiana Wildlife Federation has a simple, transparent Native Indiana Plants page, then your state has loads of resources too. And if that fails, talk to your supplier. Go the your florist, greenhouse or nursery & ask them what belongs in your state? What goes naturally in this sort of environment? What sort of things grow in the wild, less inhabited parts of the state?

If they don’t know, then do you really trust them when they try to sell you the honeysuckle, exotic orchids or “hardy” perennials? Ecosystems hang in a delicate balance; each plant, animal & insect had its role & worked in harmony to keep things in a rhythm. Our additions, lovely as they may be in our flowerbeds, are sending out seeds that drown out native species, thus permanently changing the make-up of the ecosystem.

When a native species dies from your yard, you love the insects that pollinate those plants, then the birds that eat those insects. You think, “There are no butterflies!” And you’re right, because butterflies that naturally live in your habitat have nothing to eat on your property. You then buy more plants to attract the butterflies…

So take a season & rethink your planting strategy. It’s not sustainable or affordable to tear out everything you have & start with fresh, native species. It’s not that everything NOT from your state is damaging. It is a matter of balance–you’re manipulating nature, so let nature manipulate your landscape a bit. The more native plants you put in, the more native species you’ll see. Who doesn’t love a garden full of bees, butterflies & songbirds?

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About meganbetz

human geography PhD Student at Indiana University; wife, reader, writer, baker, gardener
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